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Mayo Clinic applauds passage of medical research funding

Mayo Clinic's leader lauded the U.S. Senate for overwhelmingly passing a bill that would boost medical research funding and streamline the process for drug and medical device approvals.

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Klobuchar

Mayo Clinic's leader lauded the U.S. Senate for overwhelmingly passing a bill that would boost medical research funding and streamline the process for drug and medical device approvals.

"Mayo Clinic applauds the U.S. Senate for their vote today to approve the 21st Century Cures Act. We are confident that this comprehensive legislation will help advance research and accelerate the approval and delivery of safe treatments to the benefit of patients," Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy said in a statement.

The $6.3 billion bill — known as the 21st Century Cures Act — won large majorities in the House and Senate despite warnings from some consumer groups that industry-sought provisions to speed approval of new drugs and medical devices jeopardize patient safety. The measure now heads to President Obama's desk.

Obama, who strongly endorsed the bill, said it "could help unlock cures (for) Alzheimer's, end cancer as we know it, and help people seeking treatment for opioid addiction finally get the help they need."

The 94-4 Senate vote followed several years of lobbying by patient advocates and powerful industries, including drug manufacturers. The bill cleared the House last week by a 392-26 vote.

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Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar backed the bill. In an interview with the Post-Bulletin, she said the measure's passage is especially good new for Rochester.

"This couldn't be a bigger day for Rochester," she said.

That is because the bill includes nearly $5 billion in additional funding for the National Institutes of Health for medical research. The bill also specifically includes money for two areas of research that Mayo Clinic is a national leader on — cancer and Alzheimer's. In 2015, Mayo Clinic received nearly $264 million from the National Institutes of Health to fund research.

Also included in the bill is $1 billion for the treatment and prevention of opioid abuse. Another provision pushed by Klobuchar made it into the bill Named the "Anna Westin Act," it requires insurance companies to cover residential treatment for people with eating disorders. The bill is named in honor of Anna Westin, of Chaska, who took her own life at the age of 21 after battling anorexia.

Anna Westin's mother, Kitty Westin, said she is thrilled to see the measure poised to become the law of the land.

"it's been this really long, arduous journey, and I have an incredible sense of pride we are this far and an incredible sense of gratitude for all the people who helped us get to this finish line," she said.

Other parts of the bill would support steps designed to strengthen the nation's mental health system by coordinating treatment research, supporting community efforts to reduce homelessness and keeping mentally ill patients out of the criminal justice system.

Advocates say substantial additional funding is needed beyond what is provided in the bill.

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The legislation has generated concerns among many consumer advocates, who have warned that provisions that would speed federal regulatory review of new drugs and medical devices could expose patients to new risks.

"The bill has been sold erroneously as a common sense, bipartisan compromise that enables scientific innovation and medical breakthroughs for America," said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "But in reality, the legislation includes a grab bag of goodies for Big Pharma and medical device companies that would undermine requirements for ensuring safe and effective drugs and medical devices."

Several leading liberal lawmakers have also blasted the legislation for including what Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., last week called "corporate giveaways that will make drug companies even richer."

The White House acknowledged that it has issues with parts of the legislation, but Obama noted that the tradeoffs were worth it.

"Like all good legislation, it reflects compromise," the president said during his weekly radio address Saturday.

Hospitals and insurance companies successfully lobbied for the bill to include provisions shielding them from cuts in what the federal Medicare program pays them.

Another provision favored by industry would exempt some payments that physicians receive from drug and device makers from federal reporting requirements designed to alert patients to potential conflicts of interest.

Conservative activist group Heritage Action for America opposed the bill because it will add to federal spending.

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The bill's spending is offset with cuts in Medicare payments for drug therapies and medical equipment, other spending reductions and the sale of 25 million barrels of oil from the nation's strategic petroleum reserve.

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Dr. John Noseworthy

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